Splinters of Wood / marion bethel

I

it did not truck with the weak     had defied the hurricanes of ’29 and ’32   and survived my grandfather’s consumption     a brown rain of teeny eggs   and my grandmother’s goose iron      seething in coals and rage    flying    at a philandering husband

it was a house   of ambition   smoking grey      a dark low cloud  trimmed in winter green      where  my father’s people  of three generations      memorized their way up    the colonized ladder of education     rung by rung     through open season     and closed        now my grandmother’s clapboard two-storey house         where we all lived   in the open     and my home of ten summers

.

II

the wooden splinters wasn’t so bad      shallow as they was       coffined in my skin
a fire-cleaned sewing needle       between my mother’s fingers bleach-eaten and calloused      some rubbing alcohol   a prick         and a pick pick pick        routine in-house operations       and oh!!     lookee here!!!   a sleepy sliver of our porch        prick quick prick    a wince    precise eviction   from a deaf foot or hand   but never no loud cry

my mother silent daughter-in-duty-and-in-law     dreamed in concrete for twenty years   prayed each day       for another block of cement    to build the walls of a new home     and a bedroom with a door     to solidify the future     one more block       to cover overexposed rods    of rusted iron    a daily promise of my father

.

III

in ’63 when I left home the concrete mixer was there   over there    across the street from my grandmother’s home    in the quarry     where we played in the pit       and sifted sand     where a concrete one-storey stood       with tilted iron rods      awaiting a second storey    a one-storey where caskets lay     in velvet majesty        a second storey to be named Bethlehem     house of god            our new home    my mother’s dream    in the concrete

I was here      in our clapboard two storey    saying bye to my grandmother    my yard of juju guinep coconuts and crotons     where we played church school and porkin
in the open    bye to home    where we played dollie house      on the porch    with our pink-faced cherubic dolls      where we played doctors and nurses   behind the outhouse      with cousins & neighbourhood children    I was here saying bye bye to the termites I would no longer sweep away   and the pine living-room floor    polished in my image       I was on my way      to better education    abroad

.

IV

when it happened I wasn’t there    and no one told me   my mother never wrote a rip-by- rip report   no one spoke of the contracted hands    that battered my home          like no hurricane could     that scattered it like a child’s game of pick-up-sticks   I know my home of Abaco pine didn’t give in easy     my grandmother’s clapboard two-storey home where we all lived     in the open       pulled apart board by board    my home    a rubble of no
pickupsticks    I never never minded a heated sewing needle   a dab of alcohol    and the pricking and picking of skin       in the open spaces

over there in the quarry       in the summer of 1965     my first return home      to our new concrete house      across the street   on the second-storey        where we all lived    in my mother’s concretised dream       in rooms with doors         my grandmother and I in one bedroom       muggy nights fell asleep     between my thighs   one mid-summer night’s blood woke me up       first ever         I stuffed myself        with a thick thick thick sigh
of readiness    and toilet paper

.

V

that summer morning     I walked to our living-room    sweeping my fingers along the  concrete wall     bumpety bump     and a quick quick quick slide     across the tiles       towards my parent’s new bedroom   to get some shillings    for kotex    a sighting of my father’s nakedness     first ever        white fruit-of-the-loom in hand    bleached and ironed   sent me wheeling      straight pass the open door    to my sisters’ new bedroom   where without breath I awaited        the ripcurrent

my mother said nothing    all summer long    about my old home    or new blood   her new concrete house    or dad’s nakedness     not a thing about the new concrete foundation
my grandmother’s soon-to-be concrete home         over there  across the street   where we all used to live    in the open   where my heart still lived    in a splinter

.

VI

my mother said nothing nothing nothing     about my old home   the phantom frame  across the street     a tick tick tick in the silence    the curse of Ham hung      in the balance     in the zigzag war    of wood and concrete

it was a house of ambition   purified and sanctified   where my mother’s dreams were cast  in concrete       the splinters of wood         buried in her body      could not be removed

•••

Bahamian Marion Bethel read law at Cambridge and is the recipient of numerous awards for writing, including a James Michener Fellowship and the Casa de las Americas Prize. In 2009, Guanahani, My Love (House of Nehesi) and Bougainvillea Ringplay (Peepal Tree Press) will be published.  She is now working on a third manuscript of poetry and a novel.

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